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Aug 28

Confessions From A Professional Organizer

by Michelle Santaferraro

The tables have turned, now it is my time to move.  I am downsizing.  Yes, the organizer is downsizing. What does that really look like honestly?

Moving is not for the faint of heart.

We had weeks to get ready for this move, and we had done some things ahead of time–like clean out crawl spaces and purge some closets–but not the kind of purge that should have been done for such a mammoth event as this. In weeks previous, I had been happily working with clients on their moves. It felt so easy, mainly because I had no attachment to their stuff.

When moving day was less than 2 weeks away, the obvious became inevitable…it must be faced. That fateful moment came on a Saturday morning when all the conditions just could not be put off any longer, but the reality made me want to flee. So, on the morning when I needed to be productive and focused, I delayed the start by going for a run.

On the way out the door, my husband who was already starting to pack the garage, was busy throwing things into a large black trash can.  I walked by a trash can that was filling up quickly and said without even a hesitation, “You’re not throwing my stuff away, right?”

He assured me that he was simply reviewing garden and household repair items, but I drove away with a tight stomach, wondering what he was really putting in that trash bag.

Not Ready for the Clean Sweep!

Now, I know from professional experience what a “Clean Sweep” feels like.  Maybe you have heard of the cable show that forces people to make decisions about everything they own, and justify the reason for keeping each belonging before bringing it back into the house. I, however, had not had time to emotionally disconnect from some of the items that I own. Many of my own clients have felt the same, that they needed time to ‘think’ about releasing items. Sometimes it’s not so much what the item is, but the association that it has with a memory or an event. Regardless, this act of purging is draining.

Upon my return from the run, the inevitable stared me right in the face. It was time to ‘deal’.  I grabbed a chocolate bar and headed out to the garage.  Chocolate for breakfast is a completely acceptable staple in this transition, so don’t judge me.

In this move, I can hear Barbara Hemphill’s voice in my head, “What will you know tomorrow that you don’t know today?”

Barbara is a fellow organizing colleague who encourages her clients that if tomorrow will not reveal new information in order to help you make the decision on an item you are unsure about keeping, then you need to face the facts that you are postponing the decision. I needed to decide right away what to keep or toss, yet I found myself putting some things in a pile that I had titled – ‘maybe’. The age old question was being rehearsed in my head: What if someone else could use this? As an organizer, I get tripped up by this one especially because I know about so many non-profits and associations that can always use things.  But, this time, time was not on my side, and I had no energy to do anything else.

Through this process, I found out that I am completely distractible, asBarbara Stoker calls it, zig zag organizing. Here are a few tips I am trying out to stay sane and on-track:

1. Gather, Categorize & Pack Together – Gather similar items you need to pack in one space. Place them on a table where you are comfortable. If you begin to contort your body early in the day, you get drained much faster. Pack them together, so they stay together in the move.

2. Turn up the Jams – Put on music to help you stay focused.

3.  Don’t be Afraid to Ask – Get the help you need and learn to ask for it.  This is the most difficult for me. I think I can do everything myself, but I simply cannot. I had a fellow organizer come to my aid who helped me stay focused and asked me the hard questions.

4. Manage Expectations & Delegate – Huddle with family members who are directly involved with the move in the morning so that you can talk through expectations for the day.  Identify what is the focus of your day for packing and what is their focus.  Who is calling vendors and who is simply making deliveries?

Moving is daunting. You need to pull in reinforcements and decide what you are going to do and what you will delegate.  Understand that some of the exhaustion comes in part from what you are leaving and the grief that goes along with that.  It’s healthy to identify what you are ‘losing’ in leaving one residence behind.  Both excitement and anxiety lie in what you are moving on to, the new and the unknown. Embracing a new location brings new routines, and as shared in The Power of Habit by Duhigg, to have a large part of your day bring new experiences is very draining.

Posted in Life Balance

Jul 15

Not Just Junk in the Trunk

by Michelle Santaferraro

This summer, pack some junk in your trunk. Yes, your organizer is encouraging you to pack some clutter in your trunk.  Summer is here. Why not plan for some spontaneity?

You might experience a night after work where the drive home means sitting in traffic. Or, you might just want to sit in a park during the lunch hour.  Depending upon whether you live close to a beach or the mountains or simply in the city, you can keep some simple items that ‘live’ in your car for this type of interruption. If you take public transportation, then create a simpler version for your bag, or that could be stored at your work site.

 1.       Gather a set of plastic or paper plates ready to go for the unexpected picnic.

2.       Pack a change of clothes that includes a sweatshirt, towel, or a change of shoes.

3.       Store a couple of lawn chairs to be able to take in the view wherever you find yourself.

4.        Throw in a Frisbee if you want some physical activity in your unexpected surrounding.

5.        Choose a colorful bag or a container that can be representative of the fun you anticipate.

This is a precious time of year that seems to slip by all too quickly.  This way, you can plan to be present in the moment.



A something in a summer’s Day
As slow her flambeaux burn away
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer’s noon
A depth – an Azure – a perfume –
Transcending ecstasy.

Emily Dickinson

Posted in Life Balance, Life Hacks

Jun 12

Go For A Walk. It’s More Productive Than You May Think.

by Michelle Santaferraro


When was the last time you got turned off your computer, got up from your desk, intentionally left your phone sitting there face down, and went for a walk? No music, no noise. Just you and the cosmos. It may have been over a week, or it could have been just an hour ago; but it turns out that taking a walk might be one of the most productive things you could do with your day.

In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit elegantly explores walking as a spiritual and creative act. She wanders too and fro, journeying down a path through her own personal history, embarking on spiritual pilgrimages like Camino de Santiago, and reflecting on how the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other shapes our thinking from the work Thoreau, to early mountaineering history, and beyond.

“Modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness,” she states as an advocate for the simple yet provocative act. “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented society, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.”

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” (Aphorism 34). Many have noted the creativity sparked by walking throughout history, but now researchers at Stanford have reported the results of four studies that demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. “The kind of creativity we found for walking is more generative, more brainstorming [than sitting indoors],” says researcher Daniel Schwartz.

Just how much creativity does it generate? They found that creative output increases by an average of 60% while a person is walking.

When I work with my clients to organize their agendas for productivity and success, one of the most important things we talk about is what will aid them in being more creative. Activity is linked to unlocking mental blocks. For some people that’s going for a run or a bike ride, for others it’s making time to journal of meditate. Whether you decide to take a detour in the woods or just a loop around the block, taking a walk today might spark a stroke of genius.

You’ll never know if you don’t try.


Posted in Life Balance, Personal Productivity

Jan 6

The One Resolution You Should Make in 2015

by Michelle Santaferraro


‘Tis the season for making (and breaking) resolutions. Many will swear off the dreaded act of being resolute for fear that they will end up failing. However, take a moment to look at what it means to actually be resolute. It may make resolutions less daunting this year.

To be resolute means this; admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.

These qualities just so happen to be the things that make any project a success.

Be purposeful.
To be full of purpose is to know your goal and do everything possible to achieve it. It means breaking that goal down into bite size pieces, that are specific and attainable, and tackling these micro goals one week at a time. Whatever you are trying to achieve this year, ask yourself; What must I do each day to make this a reality? How many people must I reach to make my goal?

Keep your purpose in view. Frame your resolution or goal and put it on your wall or beside your computer! A reminder like this brings intention around the goal.

Be determined.
Make a decision and don’t turn away from it until you’ve reached your goal. The reality is; some days you will feel like the little steps you are taking are not making a big difference. To keep your persistent spirit, celebrate what you did toward your goal at the end of each week.  Mark LeBlanc, a business coach, says that consistency trumps commitment every time.  You may be committed to something, but what you do on a consistent basis is the true test of your commitment.  Share your weekly progress with a friend or colleague.

The most determined people I know are the most persistent. A daughter recently received a high-level position at a company rated one of the “Best Places to Work in 2014” by Outside Magazine. How did she land the position with over hundreds of applicants that had more experience? She showed up at the office to follow up in person. This spoke volumes to the CEO.

Be unwavering.
Consider the rock climber. When a climber moves through the crux, or the hardest part of a climb, the tendency is to slow down, over-think, and stop breathing. That is in fact the opposite of what a climber should do. When the climb gets tough, they go through the moves swiftly with balance so that they don’t waste energy. They are using their breath to keep the blood flowing through their body. The key to pulling a crux successfully is visualizing your movement, knowing what move you are going to make before you get there. That visualization starts on the ground, studying the moves with your eyes, and knowing when to rest and when to move quickly to get to your final destination.  Visualize yourself moving through the resolution to completion and success.

Be fearless.
Ask for what you want. I would tell my children shamelessly as they were growing up, “You never know or have, if you never ask.” More often than not, you can get what you wanted. Asking for what you want can be a scary thing, especially for independent people. But what is the worst thing that could happen? If you want success, there’s no room for fear of a little two letter word… “No.”

Maybe the best resolution you can make this year is to be resolute. As a colleague says, “This is your life. Show up.”

Posted in Life Balance, Life Hacks

Nov 20

3 Ways to Better Manage Expectations This Holiday Season

by Michelle Santaferraro


Call it heightened expectations or simply the anxiety of the holidays, but this time of year can bring about conversations that are difficult to navigate.  In anticipating the holidays just around the corner, you may find it helpful to offer clear communication to friends and family.  A friend of mine shared a quote with me in the last year that has served me well – “unspoken expectations are pre-planned resentments”.  I don’t know the originator of this quote, but I am indebted to them.  Here are some simple suggestions to ward off possible disappointments this season:

1.       First, decide before hand, what is the length of time that you believe is best when spending time with friends and family?   This is where you are trying to identify what it is that you really want out of this time.  If you find that you are stumped on this first step then think about what it was about last year that was especially meaningful to you.

2.       Secondly, decide your level of contribution.  What are the things you want to bring to the table literally and figuratively?  Your contribution can be your money or your time, but it can also mean what you decide to contribute in the way of conversation.

3.       Communicate these expectations you have discovered.  Be proactive by simply reaching out first.  Don’t wait for the day to arrive and then surprise the folks you are with. This is where the disappointments or ‘pre-planned resentments’ creep in.

Set yourself up for success by taking the advice of Professional Speaker and Author Julie Ann Sullivan,  “The longer we keep our expectations to ourselves, the harder it is for others to fulfill them.” These months of the year were meant to provide sacred space for you to reflect on life and enjoy the people who matter most to you. A few extra minutes spent communicating expectations can help you ensure you experience the full measure of thanksgiving, joy, peace, and celebration the holidays were meant to bring you.

Posted in Life Balance, Life Hacks, Tips

Sep 3

The Secret to Organization Success: Build in Recovery

by Michelle Santaferraro


What are some simple ways to maintain organization?  Build in recovery intervals each day.  One of my colleagues, Barbara Hemphill says:

“Organizing is about how quickly you can recover.”

 When you practice recovery, you are much more likely to get back on track when things are out of control, cluttered, or scattered. A very simple example is an every week occurrence of bringing in the groceries.  If you come home with bags of groceries, you are ‘recovering’ when you put them away and so preserve your monetary investment. Building intervals of recovery into your day is a way to stay organized and be ready for the next task you need to do.

In a given day, what are some natural intervals for building recovery?

AFTER MEETINGS – Build in a 10 to 15 minute buffer after meetings so that you can track what actionable items you have just received, what items are delegated to others, and any timelines that need to be tracked to your calendar.  Many folks attend meetings and rush to the next one without any time for recovery.  If you wait to recover at the end of the day, trying to remember what was said and attempt to reconstruct the meeting details can be tricky.  Critical elements can be forgotten.

AFTER CHECKING EARLY MORNING ‘FIRES’ – Get back in control of your time.  First thing in the morning, you may be checking emails and voice messages and, depending upon what you discover, you may be pulled into an emergency that you must attend to. Some days are like that given your industry and your type of work. When the urgent is taken care of, get back in control of your time by incorporating the newly discovered actionable items into your tracking system and get back to the priorities of the day. This will quiet the chaos in your mind because you will have these actionable items represented.Now, you can get back to real priorities of the day.

AFTER FINISHING A PROJECT – Take the contents or papers from the task you just finished and move them off your desk or just behind you.  You do this before starting a new task.  Sometimes we simply start stacking the next thing on top.  If your project was electronic or in soft copy form, you could close out the window on your computer before moving on to the next item at hand.  Clutter can call to us subconsciously.  You are having your physical environment and/or desktop support the clarity you desire in your mind.

Getting organized and staying organized comes down to little habits we do every day. It is not the tool you choose to get organized, but the habits you develop around the tools and technology you choose.  Building recovery into your work day will help you support clarity of focus and build those organizing muscles.

Posted in Life Balance, Personal Productivity, Tips

Jul 8

On Being Present

by Michelle Santaferraro


My face fell flush as I was kindly corrected that I had sent email condolences to the wrong recipient.  Yes, needless to say, I was embarrassed.  Only 24 hours earlier, I was feeling quite smug in correcting someone who had not properly read my three-sentence email wherein I had requested a pest control vendor.  They responded by indicating they would put me on their list as a provider.  But, wait! I don’t do pest control!

Bottom line, I need to practice being ‘present’ in what I am doing at any given time. I find this journey of staying ‘present’ as an ongoing opportunity to learn.  Being present is another way of saying – be fully available emotionally and intellectually to the event or the person we are in front of.  This is how I personally define it.  Psychologist Michael Formica in an article for Psychology Today would define it as “we end up passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and in so doing, we miss the moment.”

There are 4 ways I am striving to be ‘present’ and maybe they will help you as well:

Stay ‘present’ with people.  When I am with a person on the phone, I am trying to give them my full attention by closing my laptop and turning away from my work so that I can concentrate on what they are telling me.  When I am physically with a person, I am choosing to silence my cell phone or simply flip it over on the table so that I can listen to what they are saying.

Stay ‘present’ in your thoughts.  Many of us live in the future by worrying and fretting about what is to come. We can equally spend time in the past as we rehearse conversations we wish we would’ve thought of. We let regrets simply run away with our thoughts.  Both can stir negative emotions. In other words, stay in ‘today’ with your thoughts.

Stay ‘present’ while eating.  I catch myself standing up while I eat, and eating faster. When I do so, I’ m not really tasting the food nor enjoying the savory meal set before me.  I tend to eat more than I wanted if I am ‘mindless’ in my eating.

Stay ‘present’ when working.  Is there something that you have worked on and because you were rushing or going too quickly, you had re-work it?  The first pass on a project could have been sufficient if you had stayed present.  As you read my intro, you know which one I am working on – trying to stay present while processing email.  Yet, many times I only take in the highlights or just a few sentences when I am trying to rush through email.  In the end, this lack of attention has created more work for me as I spend more time clarifying.

It can be difficult to remember that the simple act of being present in every moment is a discipline that requires patience. But, as any discipline, the outcome most always is enriching.

Posted in Life Balance, Personal Productivity, Tips